Ben Ammar closes in on Eagle

Dammicco brothers sell stake

ROME — Tarak Ben Ammar is one step away from acquiring control of Eagle Pictures, the prominent Italian distribbery of Hollywood genre pics, after its co-founders, brothers Stefano and Ciro Dammicco on Tuesday sold off their respective stakes to private equity funds.

The Franco-Tunisian film producer and dealmaker — topper of Paris-based Quinta Communications and board member of the Weinstein Co. — is now negotiating his entry in Italy’s fourth largest local distribbery with Interbanca and Milan-based Bs Private Equity, which have gained hold of more than 80% of Eagle.

Eagle, which entered Italy’s tough theatrical market six years ago and currently has Anthony Hopkins thriller “Fracture” on Italo release, has been in recent months at the center of a dispute between the Dammicco brothers who held a 39.37% stake and the company’s equity investors, who questioned former CEO Stefano Dammicco’s management capability and complained it was overexposed financially.

The dispute has been resolved with Stefano and Ciro Dammicco’s exit after selling off their stakes, Italian financial daily Italia Oggi reported.

Calls to Stefano Dammicco in Milan and Ben Ammar in Paris were not returned Wednesday.

Both parties recently confirmed to Daily Variety that Eagle Pictures was likely to change hands. Producer Mark Lombardo, a close Ben Ammar collaborator, is now tipped to become Eagle Pictures topper.

Ben Ammar has long been active in Italy, where he operates two lucrative digital TV operations, Prima TV and Europa TV. A longtime associate of Silvio Berlusconi and adviser to Rupert Murdoch, as well as a board member of leading merchant bank Mediobanca, he also holds a 24% stake in TV production company Lux Vide, maker of mega skein “War and Peace.”

Ben Ammar has been reiterating for months his intention of becoming an Italo movie industry player, and even of setting up a “pan-European distribution major.” Earlier this week, he acquired a small but significant stake in Rainbow, maker of “Winx Club,” the smash Italo kiddie series sold in 90 countries, ahead of a planned flotation on the Milan bourse by the expanding animation studio.

Eagle, which has a 5% market share so far this year, has close ties to Hollywood’s indies, among which New Line, Lionsgate, and Bob Yari productions, and has gone against Italy’s TV-backed giants Medusa and RAI Cinema with a wide range of titles, including Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” its top-grossing release to date. Ben Ammar distributed that pic in France.

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